NORTHERN IRELAND is facing up to an uncertain political future following the resignation of Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) leader Steve Aiken.
Aiken announced his intention to step down in a letter to party chairman Danny Kennedy, explaining that he had taken the UUP as far as he felt he could.
The UUP leader’s resignation comes just 10 days after Arlene Foster was forced to quit as DUP leader following an internal power struggle within the party.
Aiken’s decision to quit also came against mounting discontent within the UUP at his leadership.
He will remain as South Antrim MLA and plans to stay as leader until a successor is chosen.
The announcement leaves political unionism in Northern Ireland facing up to major changes ahead of new year’s Assembly election.
Unionist and loyalist communities in Northern Ireland have already been unsettled in the fallout from Brexit and the establishment of the Irish Sea Border.
There are now fears that the current political turmoil could have a major knock-on effect on the power-sharing dynamic established in Belfast.
A former submarine captain elected UUP leader unopposed in 2019, Aiken used his resignation letter to reflect on the last few months as “a momentous time for our Union and for Northern Ireland.”
“To represent the brand of Unionism that builds on hope and not fear, and provides a clear, modern, alternative, that will be both the future of our Party and Northern Ireland will require strong leadership,” he said.
“Regrettably, however, I believe I have taken our Party as far as I can; to achieve our goals, we now need new leadership.
“Therefore, after due consideration, I would wish you to accept my resignation as Party Leader, effective from 10:00 on the 10 May 2021.
“I will not be retiring from politics and I will be dedicating myself fully to support our new Party Leader, our Party, but above all to the people of South Antrim.”
Responding to his resignation, Kennedy said Aiken should take "considerable pride” in his “many achievements as our party leader and the necessary reforms to our structures brought under your watch’.
“I very much hope that, along with colleagues, we can shape a prosperous and happy future for all of the people of Northern Ireland within the Union,” he added.
Upper Bann MLA Doug Beattie as emerged as the early frontrunner to replace Aiken.